Where does my council tax go?

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Where does my council tax go - a Freedom of Information request to South Somerset District Council (WhatDoTheyKnow)
I have recently recieved my council tax bill and would like to know excatly where my money goes. On the minimal breakdown that is stated on the letter, it states i pay three different council departments i also contribute towards adult social care, may i state i do not use this service and i have no one in social care so why should i pay it. I also have no full time police force, fire service or ambulance service why am i paying for these. I have not used these services therefore why am i not refunded for the services that i do not use. I want to know the excact breakdown of where the £936 pound i give to south somerset district council go. As i feel i am being ripped of and paying for services i do not use. Yours faithfully, james

The following Freedom of Information request was published on What Do They Know?, and it’s glorious:

Dear South Somerset District Council,

I have recently recieved my council tax bill and would like to know excatly where my money goes.

On the minimal breakdown that is stated on the letter, it states i pay three different council departments i also contribute towards adult social care, may i state i do not use this service and i have no one in social care so why should i pay it. I also have no full time police force, fire service or ambulance service why am i paying for these. I have not used these services therefore why am i not refunded for the services that i do not use.

I want to know the excact breakdown of where the £936 pound i give to south somerset district council go. As i feel i am being ripped of and paying for services i do not use.

Yours faithfully,

james


Dear James,

Your question is quite broad and more than a little mystifying. To the extent that it’s a Freedom of Information Request, I can tell you that a more thorough breakdown of South Somerset District Council’s (SSDC’s) finances for financial years 2012/13 – 2015/16 are available on this page of our website: https://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/about-us/finance

I recommend looking at the Summary of Accounts documents—there is a helpful pie-chart in each. Our Statement and Summary of Accounts for the 2016/17 financial year will be published after the 27th of July.

Please note that SSDC collects Council Tax on behalf of other local authorities, including Somerset County Council and Avon and Somerset Police (these are, I think, the ‘departments’ to which you refer). These authorities will have published similar statements of accounts.

The rest of your questions touch on deeper issues about the philosophy of public service and the extent to which these services should be free at the point of use. The Freedom of Information Act is not the appropriate platform to debate these issues. But I offer the following parable:

In ancient Rome Marcus Crassus became very wealthy by creating the first fire brigade. But his brigade was not publicly funded, nor did they sell fire insurance. When the brigade arrived at a burning building, Crassus would negotiate with the owner a price he considered reasonable to put out the fire. His brigade would let the building burn until a price was agreed. If the owner failed to agree, they would let it burn to the ground.

Whilst you don’t need adult social care now, you may one day. And the people who DO need it now aren’t in a position to agree a reasonable price for it.

Perhaps if you are interested in researching public service, you could use a public library (which is free at the point of use).

Kind regards,
Zac

Legal Services
South Somerset District Council

The Pig War of 1859

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The Pig War of 1859 (Historic UK)
Undeniably one of the most obscure and unusual 'wars' in history, this is the story of how the killing of an escaped pig almost caused a war between the United States and Britain.

‘The Pig War’ is perhaps one of the most obscure and unusual wars in history. The story begins back in 1846 when the Oregon Treaty was signed between the US and Britain. The treaty aimed to put to rest a long standing border dispute between the US and British North America (later to be Canada), specifically relating to the land between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coastline.

The Oregon Treaty stated that the US / British American border be drawn at the 49th parallel, a division which remains to this day. Although this all sounds rather straightforward, the situation because slightly more complicated when it came to a set of islands situated to the south-west of Vancouver. Around this region the treaty stated that the border be through ‘the middle of the channel separating the continent from Vancouver’s Island.’ As you can see from the map below, simply drawing a line through the middle of the channel was always going to be difficult due to the awkward positioning of the islands.

An early map of San Juan

London’s Transport Chief Can’t Do Early Meetings As She Uses Southern Rail

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London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport avoids early morning meetings because she relies on Southern Rail to get into the office.

Val Shawcross’ office was trying to set up a meeting and in an email wrote: “Val actually is a morning person but has to use Southern trains to get in to the office so we try not to have too many early starts.”

The First Time I Met Americans

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HANOI, Vietnam — I first visited the United States in the summer of 1998, when I was invited to attend a literary conference in Montana with four other Vietnamese writers. We flew from Hanoi to Taiwan to Los Angeles. As we crossed the Pacific Ocean, passing through many time zones, I buried myself in sleep and woke up only when the plane hit the tarmac. At passport control, we found ourselves in a huge hall, and I was abruptly taken aback: There were Americans all around us, lots of them! I will never forget that strange feeling. It was bizarre, unbelievable, surreal, that I, a veteran of the Vietnamese People’s Army, was in the United States, surrounded by Americans.

The first time I ever saw Americans was when I was 12 years old. It wasn’t actually blond-haired, blue-eyed Americans that I was seeing up close. The Americans I saw that day were F-4 Phantom bombers, brutally attacking small towns on the shore of Ha Long Bay. It was Aug. 5, 1964, and I was at the beach on a school trip, swimming with my classmates. That was right after the Tonkin Gulf incident, the day President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his decision to expand the war throughout Vietnam…

Welcome To Nauru, The Most Corrupt Country You’ve Never Heard Of

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Nestled in a cluster of islands in the central Pacific Ocean is Nauru, a small country with a totally insane story.

Nauru

In 1980, the island nation was considered the wealthiest nation on the planet; in 2017, BusinessTech listed it as one of the five poorest countries in the world.

This is a story of a country that journeyed from rags to riches and back to rags. It’s a cautionary tale of what happens when a nation exploits its natural resources at the expense of people’s lives…

Tory Momentum clone Activate at war as ‘hackers’ back Jacob Rees-Mogg for PM | Politics | The Guardian

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It’s the grassroots political movement whose launch nobody could envy. Now, social media channels for Activate, the centre-right attempt to emulate Momentum’s youth appeal, appear to be at war with each other over backing for Jacob Rees-Mogg to be Britain’s next prime minister.

On Twitter, the @ActivateBritain account has tweeted a string of anti-Theresa May images and issued an “official statement” endorsing the MP for North East Somerset as the next Conservative leader…

The Man Who Knew Too Much

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His nuclear research helped a judge determine that former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko had been assassinated – likely on Putin’s orders. Just months after the verdict, the scientist himself was found stabbed to death with two knives. Police deemed it a suicide, but US intelligence officials suspect it was murder…

Theresa May to launch wide-ranging internet regulation and security changes despite not winning majority

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Theresa May looks set to launch wide-ranging internet regulation and plans to fundamentally change how technology works despite not having won a majority.

In the speech in which she committed to keep governing despite calls to stand down, the prime minister made reference to extending powers for the security services. Those powers – which include regulation of the internet and forcing internet companies to let spies read everyone’s private communications – were a key part of the Conservative campaign, which failed to score a majority in the House of Commons.

In the speech, given in Downing Street after losing her majority but still looking to form a government, she laid out a series of plans that she hopes to carry out at what she called a “critical time for our country”…

Tory MP ‘told schoolgirl to “f*** off back to Scotland” when she said she’d vote for independence’ | The Independent

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James Heappey MP

A Tory MP told a girl to “f*** off back to Scotland” when she said she’d vote for independence if a second referendum was triggered.

James Heappey’s outburst came as he addressed sixth-formers at the £12,000-a-year Millfield School in Somerset…

Looking for Wikipedia?

As you may have noticed, the English-speaking Wikipedia is “blacking out” in protest at SOPA/PIPA. This is a very important thing: SOPA/PIPA are potentially extremely dangerous bits of legislation (if you’re looking for a short explanation of why, here’s a great video).

I’m going to assume that you’re aware of the issues and have already taken action appropriate to your place – if you’re in the US, you’ve written to your representatives; if you’re in the rest of the English-speaking world, you’ve donated to the EFF (this issue affects all of us), etc. But if you’re in need of Wikipedia, here’s the simplest way to view it, today:

Accessing Wikipedia during the blackout

  1. Go to the English-language Wikipedia as normal. You’ll see the “SOPA blackout” page after a second or so.
  2. Copy-paste the following code into the address bar of the browser:

javascript:(function()%7Bdocument.getElementById('content').style.display='block';document.getElementById('mw-sopaOverlay').style.display='none'%7D)()

That’s all. You don’t even have to turn off Javascript in your browser, as others are suggesting: just surf away.

If you get sick of copy-pasting on every single Wikipedia page you visit… you can drag this link to your bookmarks toolbar (or right click it and select “add to bookmarks”) and then just click it from your bookmarks whenever you want to remove the blackout.

And if you just came here for the shortcut without making yourself aware of the issues, shame on you.

Apples To Alternative Vote

The other Earthlings, Statto, and I this week came up with a fun and topical variant of hit social board game Apples To Apples (which you might well have played with us at some point or another: if not, come over and we’ll show you). We call it AAV, or Apples To Alternative Vote, and it goes a little like this:

How'dya like them apples? An Applies to Apples (British Isles Edition) set and a sense of humour are all you need to play this game.
  1. Each player draws a hand of seven red cards, as usual. A deck of green cards is built to represent the voting populace. We used 9 green cards for 5 players, and I reckon that was too few: try doubling or tripling the number of players to get a green deck size. Round up to ensure you have an odd number.
  2. In turn, each player (or “candidate”) draws a green card from the constructed deck and explains: “Opinion polls show that voters in this constituency desire things which are…”, and then read out the card as normal. Play about with the language! “I represent the interests of voters who demand…”, etc.
  3. As usual, the other candidates play face-down red cards (policies) that will attract those voters, and the judge flips them over and chooses the one which best-reflects the interests of their constituents. The winning candidate wins their vote, and takes the green card as a prize.
  4. Play until one candidate holds the majority of the green cards. If you run out of green cards before this happens, eliminate the player(s) with the fewest votes (green cards): then they act as judge for these green cards among the remaining candidates. Continue eliminating and redistributing in this fashion until one candidate has a majority. This player is the winner.
  5. If this is all somehow too challenging for you, then declare that AV actually is too complicated, like the No-to-AV people say it is, and give up. Also: you should probably buy yourself some simpler board games, thicko.
An explanation of what all those complicated numbers mean for those too stupid to get their head around Alternative Vote.

We have in mind a possible variant in which different voting issue (green cards) represent different numbers of voters (perhaps using the “values” deck from For Sale), and the aim is to have a majority of voters, not issues, won over by your policies. “12,000 voters desire things which are… scary!” Give it a go, and let us know how you get on. And don’t forget to vote on Thursday!